Jun 132014
 

Next time you are staying with us or Kensington House Hotel, why not pay Kensington Gardens a visit?  There are a wide number of things to do and see within the confines of this 242 acre park, one of eight Royal Parks in the capital.   Bought by William III in 1689 from what was originally part of Hyde Park, he commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to design the redbrick building that is Kensington Palace.  Queen Anne enlarged the Palace Gardens by ‘transferring’ 30 acres from Hyde Park and was responsible for the creation of the Orangery in 1704. It was Queen Caroline, wife of George II, who in 1728 moulded the gardens to their present form by creating the Serpentine and the Long Water from the Westbourne stream. Queen Victoria was born in Kensington Palace and lived there until she became queen in 1837.

For most of the 18th century the gardens were closed to the public. They were opened gradually but only to the respectably dressed!

Kensington Palace

Originally built for William III and Mary II at the end of the 17th century, Kensington Palace has been a museum, a barracks and a private residence.  It is perhaps best known today as the London home of Diana, Princess of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  There are a great many rooms to see – the Queen’s and The Kings Apartment’s as well as the room where Queen Victoria was born.  Temporary exhibitions are a constant draw and at present, it’s all about The First Georgians, celebrating 300 years of Hanoverian rule.

These accompanying Palace gardens really enhance the setting of the Palace as well as being a lovely spot to sit and take in the magnificent planting.  The cafe by the way is well priced and a good place to fuel up for further expeditions in the Gardens.  Entrance starts at GBP16.50 for adults or GBP15.40 if booked online.  It is free for Historic Royal Palaces members.

Henry Moore’s Arch

Located at the end of one of the longest uninterrupted avenue vistas in London lies Henry Moore’s glorious Arch, opposite Kensington Palace and overlooking the lake.  It is inspired by life and natural objects (a bone in this case) but evokes comparisons with other monumental structures such as Stonehenge.  This mammoth sculpture, crafted from Travertine marble, was originally created for Kensington Gardens following a major retrospective at the Serpentine Gallery in 1978.  It was restored in 1996 and repositioned in its original site.

Statue of Peter Pan

Commissioned by the author himself – Sir James Barrie – from artist George Frampton RA, the statue appeared overnight on 1st May 1912 and caused something of a sensation after an announcement made about it in The Times that morning advising “there is a surprise in store for the children who go to Kensington Gardens to feed the ducks in the Serpentine this morning”.   In the book, The Little White Bird, Peter flies out of his nursery and lands beside the Long Water and this is exactly where the statue is located.

Barrie had apparently met a family – the Llewellyn Davies – in Kensington Gardens and based the Darling Family from the book on them.  Indeed the statue is said to be based on young Michael Llewellyn Davies.

 The Italian Gardens

I didn’t know that The Italian Gardens even existed before I perused the website for Kensington Gardens.  The Italian Gardens are situated on the north side of Kensington Gardens, near Lancaster Gate and are effectively an 150-year-old ornamental water garden. It is said that the gardens were created by a love-sick Prince Albert for his bride Queen Victoria and it consists of four main basins with central rosettes and a stunning white marble Tazza Fountain – all surrounded by intricately carved stone statues and urns.  Located at the head of The Long Water, the river which flows through Kensington Gardens into Hyde Park where it becomes The Serpentine, these gardens were restored in 2011 with help from the Tiffany & Co Foundation of NYC.  They are now protected by English Heritage who have listed them Grade II as a site of particular importance.

The Albert Memorial

The most extravagant, the most recognisable and perhaps the most poignant statue in London for me has to be Queen Victoria’s memorial to her late lamented husband, Prince Albert, opposite the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington, London in Kensington Gardens.  It commemorates the life and work of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha – a life cut short at just 42 when he died of typhoid fever. He left behind him a grief-stricken widow who would wear her mournful weeds for the rest of her life.

This memorial to her husband took eight years to complete, was designed in the gothic manner by Sir George Gilbert Scott (architect of St Pancras) and involved an army of artists and craftsmen in its complex design.  For some, and it is rumoured The Queen is among them, it is a little too ornate but it certainly helps you keep to your bearings in the park.

Follow The Royal Parks on Twitter @RPFoundation, Facebook/The Royal Parks Foundation – also on Flickr and YouTube

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Jun 042014
 

 

If you only visit one exhibition this year, make sure it’s the Matisse Cut-outs at Tate Modern, opening tomorrow until 7th September 2014.   I predict that the Tate has a major blockbuster on its hands here. Brilliantly curated with a light touch, these masterpieces from the latter end of Matisse’s life emit an unqualified joie de vivre which will appeal to all ages and leave you with a smile on your face. Make sure you take the accompanying headphone tour as there are anecdotes galore which only add to your enjoyment.

Handwritten illustrated books mix with the major pieces, each looking as fresh as the day they were commissioned. It is the most comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to the artist’s paper cut-outs made between 1937 and 1954 and features 130 works, many seen together for the first time. When ill health prevented Matisse from painting, he began to cut into painted paper with scissors and in a very simplistic explanation, a new art form was born.  His will to continue creating works of art must have been extraordinary strong – I am in awe of his genius and I am sure I will return again to see this incredible exhibition.

Henri Matisse:  The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern is open from 17th April – 7th September 2014.  Tickets (with donation) are GBP18.  For a quieter viewing, book the Sunday evenings where visitors are restricted from 20.00 – 22.30.  Can’t get to London but you live in the UK or Eire, then from 3rd June, Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs Live will be shown live at selected cinemas.

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May 142014
 

 

The most extravagant, the most recognisable and perhaps the most poignant statue in London for me has to be Queen Victoria’s memorial to her late lamented husband, Prince Albert, opposite the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington, London in Kensington Gardens.  It commemorates the life and work of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha – a life cut short at just 42 when he died of typhoid fever.

He left behind him a grief-stricken widow who would wear her mournful weeds for the rest of her life.  This memorial to her husband took eight years to complete, was designed in the gothic manner by George Gilbert Scott and involved an army of artists and craftsmen in its complex design.

The iconography of the statutory is slightly confusing but from what I can gather, the main large sculptures on the outer edges symbolise the various continents of the world who exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 which to a large degree, was organised by Prince Albert.  It took place in a temporary Crystal Palace created just a few metres away in Hyde Park.  The groups above the main frieze are symbolic of Agriculture, Manufacture, Commerce and Engineering – the major themes of the Exhibition.

The Parnassus frieze however, which runs around the memorial, depicts those figures that the Victorians considered the greatest figures in Western culture, arranged within the fields of poetry, music, painting, sculpture and architecture. Most of the statues are hewn from Campanella marble but for the figure of Prince Albert (for which 72 tons of cannon barrels were provided by Woolwich Arsenal), gilded bronze was used.

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The sculptor of Albert himself – or rather sculptors – was firstly Baron Marochetti (who died), then John Foley (who again died before the statue was cast) and finally Thomas Brock who completed the work.  It shows him in his Garter robes, holding a volume of the Great Exhibition catalogue. The actual memorial opened to the general public in 1872 but without the Prince’s statue which was eventually installed three years later.  It was then covered up again  for another year so it could be gilded before being finally unveiled in March 1876.  Scott was knighted for his work on the memorial.

 

The monument incurred slight damage in both World Wars but it was only when a piece of lead fell off in 1983, that a full restoration was commissioned.  The monument, complete with an Albert now covered in 24-carat gold, was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in October 1998.  Rumour has it, it is a bit too ornate for her taste ….

Via Magellan PR, a boutique travel PR company. Images by Sue Lowry

Apr 252014
 

May is a lovely time to be in London as the days are getting longer and the options to be outside, with a greater chance of dry weather, are more plentiful.

REGENT’S PARK

I was inspired by Paul O’Pray, Head Concierge of London Bridge Hotel, who likes to visit Regent’s Park and there are a few good reasons to head there during May.

The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre 2014 season opens on 15 May with Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. It’s a 20th century classic with a story of denial, guilt and a confrontation that leads to a shameful family secret.

open-air-theatre

The Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park is the only professional, outdoor theatre in Britain. It offers a range of events and performances from May through to September.

On the north side of Regent’s Park is London Zoo where there’s a Silent Cinema from 6 to 10 May. The special five nights starts with ’90s classic Jumanji and concludes with childhood-favourite, The Jungle Book.

London-Zoo-cinema

I’ve always admired the old Lubetkin penguin pool at London Zoo so the new History Tours at the Zoo sound like a really good idea. From April to November, on the last Friday and Saturday of each month, the history tours will look at the beginning of the Zoological Gardens in 1826, how it helped to inspire Charles Darwin, plus the famous listed buildings. London Zoo has some incredible heritage – it’s actually where we get the word ‘zoo’ from as it was the first.

© ZSL - Lubetkin Penguin Pool

© ZSL – Lubetkin Penguin Pool

MUSEUMS AT NIGHT

15 to 17 May is when many museums and cultural venues stay open late for the annual Museums at Night festival. As you would expect, there’s lots going on across London but, again, I took inspiration from Paul O’Pray as he recommended the Old Operating Theatre close to London Bridge Hotel.

On 16 May the Old Operating Theatre is opening for “Night of The Bodysnatcher” so you can hear about the gruesome profession of the Resurrectionists – the men who supplied corpses to the dissecting rooms of London from the graves of the city.

Old Operating Theatre - Image © Sue Lowry

Old Operating Theatre – Image © Sue Lowry

A much less frightful option would be to visit Apsley House on Friday 16 or Saturday 17 May (6-8pm) to explore the resplendent rooms after dark and hear the tales of the house’s fascinating history brought to life. This was the Duke of Wellington’s home and is also known as ‘Number One London’.

QUIRKY ENGLISH FUN

I mentioned the Tweed Run in the ‘Planning Ahead‘ section last month as it’s a fine example of English eccentricity. On 17 May look out for the genteel gentlemen cyclists, along with some fair ladies too, as they take to the streets on bicycles old and new. It’s all about looking the part and “overdressed” is not in their vocabulary!

There’s more English fun the week before on 11 May as it is the 39th Covent Garden May Fayre. You can expect a Grand Procession in the morning and Punch and Judy puppet performances throughout the afternoon.

Another English tradition is a pint at the pub and Pint of Science, on from 19 to 21 May, allows you to combine having a drink with learning something scientific. The talks are cheap (less than the price of a pint) and there are dozens of pubs to choose from as well as topics to select.

Close to the London Bridge Hotel, The Rose Theatre has a sponsored Readathon, on 31 May, of twelve plays by Shakespeare and Marlowe – many of which were performed at this 16th century theatre.

 FURTHER AFIELD

There’s an Art Deco Fair at Eltham Palace, in Greenwich, on 10-11 May, so you can surround yourself with Art Deco decadence and sample the splendour of the thrilling thirties with an abundance of vintage stalls to satisfy the most ardent shopper. If you miss this date there’s another on 13-14 September.

Kenwood House, on the edge of Hampstead Heath, has a Foodies Festival on Friday 30 May to Sunday 1 June (11am-7pm). It will be a celebration of fine food and drink in a beautiful outdoor setting, with plenty of cookery demonstrations, plus kids can learn to cook too in the Children’s Cookery Theatre. I’m looking forward to afternoon tea in the Vintage Tea Tent and taking part in one of the tea dances.

PLANNING AHEAD

Southbank Centre’s annual Meltdown festival has been running since 1993 and each year invites a different cultural figure to act as director of the event and pick the performers of their choosing. This year, DJ, recording artist and record label boss James Lavelle has been asked to direct the 2014 festival – promising 10 days of performances and creative collaborations from 13 to 22 June. Look out for hip hop legend Grandmaster Flash and Scratch Perverts who are playing a one off double-bill.

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Another annual event starting in June is the City of London Festival on from 22 June to 17 July. The Square Mile celebrates music, dance, art, film, poetry, and family events across iconic venues and outdoor spaces, including Paternoster Square, next to St Paul’s Cathedral, where there will be a giant bowler hat. It’s an inflatable pop-up venue and will host theatre, comedy and circus events.

Also, the Quarter Bar & Lounge, at London Bridge Hotel, is taking part in London Wine Week which runs from 2 to 8 June. Look out for the wine tours.

Do check out the latest offers as London Bridge Hotel has weekend rates from as low as £99. You can sign up for special offer alerts here. And when you can’t be at the hotel, you can try making the Quarter Bar’s cocktails with these recipes.

Laura Porter writes the About.com London Travel site and contributes to many other publications while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival that of our Queen. You can find Laura on twitter as@AboutLondon and on Facebook as AboutLondonLaura.

Apr 222014
 

 

In the space of just 12 years (it opened in March 2000), The EDF Energy London Eye has become a symbol of London innovation and cities around the world have raced to replicate its success. Taking seven years to create, the Millennium Wheel as it was known when it opened, was designed by David Marks and Julia Barfield, a husband and wife architectural team and at 135 metres, is one of the world’s tallest observation wheels.   It is now the UK’s most popular visitor attraction with over 3.75 million customers a year.

Here are five fast facts about one of my all time favourite London attractions:

  • You can see around 40 kms (25 miles) from the top on a clear day – sometimes even as far as Windsor Castle.
  • There are 800 passengers per revolution, equivalent to 11 London red double decker busses.
  • A rotation takes around 30 minutes.
  • The weight of the wheel and capsules is 2,100 tonnes or as much as 1,272 London black cabs.
  • Kate Moss is the UK celebrity who holds the record for return visits on some 25 occasions with Jessica Alba being the international record holder at 31!

Go on – give it a whirl – I know you want to.

Via Magellan PR, a boutique travel PR company.

Mar 312014
 

Paul O’Pray is the Head Concierge of London Bridge Hotel, the independent, four star property located just steps away from London Bridge and The Shard London.   He has worked for the hotel for over 16 years this May and has become famous or perhaps infamous for his idiosyncratic musical choices shared via social media streams.  We caught up with him to ask him for his personal London favourites.

exterior

You obviously love the area – what hidden gems are there hereabouts?

There’s Borough Market of course – unbeatable but I think the biggest gem in the collection has to be the Old Operating Theatre museum – just around the corner from us.  It offers a glimpse into the Victorian age and is atmospheric and bursting with character – a very unique attraction.

The Old Operating Theatre by Sue Lowry

I also like Southwark Cathedral just a couple of minutes walk from us across the road.  It’s a very peaceful oasis in the heart of the city – they offer a daily prayer and sometimes, it’s a very soothing place to visit and be at peace.  There’s a monument to Shakespeare and the Marchioness memorial of course – I always stop for a moment there. Oh and I love the George Inn.  The food is very good – there’s a mix of tourists and city types – it has a wonderful atmosphere and you can really feel the history – the coaches which must have pulled in here for refreshment before travelling onto Dover.

the-george-inn

The George Inn by Sue Lowry

Oh and did you know, the captain of the Mayflower is buried in Bermondsey at the St Mary the Virgin Church in Rotherhide.  Christopher Jones was his name.  London has a wonderful maritime history – and I love its seafaring history.

st-jamess-park

St James Park by Sue Lowry

What else do you love about London?

I enjoy our parks – especially Hyde Park. Full of little gardens – you can really lose yourself in there and completely forget you are in the centre of the capital.  I’m a bit of a gardener too so I always visit Regent’s and St James’s Parks to see what’s going on.

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Mar 102014
 

There is so much to see in London but for newcomers, (and for Londoners like myself who have never done it),  my suggestion would be to visit the myriad of attractions that surround the Tower of London.  This suggested day out requires both stamina and good walking shoes!

Coming in via Tower Hill Underground and heading for the underpass, you might do a double take as I did when you notice a Roman statue staring at you.  This is not just any Roman centurion – it’s actually a statue of Emperor Trajan and he stands proudly in front of one of the largest parts of the Roman wall still in existence.  The London Wall (as its now known) used to surround the Roman city of Londinium.  (When you have time, a walk around the London Wall is another great “to do”, taking around two hours to complete and you can download a PDF of the route via the Museum of London.)

Anyway – keep heading onwards, following the crowds and in front of you, will loom the fortress of the Tower of London – a palace and a prison where many a terrified citizen has entered and never exited … alive.  It was built to awe and subjugate Londoners and the key building (and the one I headed to immediately) is the White Tower.  What really amazed me when I entered however was the pure scale of the site.  It really is enormous and there is so much to see and so many batiments to walk that you can spend a good few hours here.

Just inside the entrance, you come across a water gate.  This is the infamous Traitor’s Gate - trust me, you don’t want to enter the Tower of London this way – the clue is in the name.  Bad news.

Did you know the Tower of London used to house a Royal Menagerie (AKA zoo) around the time of King John too?  These rather good wire statues give an idea of the other “prisoner” inhabitants of the Tower.

What I really liked?  The costumed actors who inter-acted in perfect character with the public as you walked around.  These children are entranced.  I also liked all the cafes and restaurants scattered around the complex – all are good, well priced and ideal for quick re-fuelling.

Refreshed and revived, from here, it’s but a short walk to the nearby Tower Bridge.  I’ve always had a fascination with this particular London attraction as my god-father used to be Bridge Master here.

Shame he never did get to take me on a private tour but the friendly peeps here make everyone feel at home.  You ride up the lifts to see the walkways (little tip – take photos only from the tiny windows that open above the displays) - descending and walking across the bridge to go downstairs to see the engine rooms.  Just brilliant.

Now walking alongside the River Thames, my next suggested pit-stop is HMS Belfast – a tethered warship just steps from (and photographed from) Tower Bridge.  A World War II cruiser, she saw service from 1939 – 1963 when she retired.

HMS Belfast opened to the public on Trafalgar Day, 1971 under the auspices of the Imperial War Museum.  Today she is the last remaining vessel of her type – one of the largest and most powerful light cruisers ever built.

There’s lots to see on board so a good tip is to leave around 90 minutes for your visit – I highly recommend it and kiddies in particular adore it.

OK, onwards and upwards again just along from HMS Belfast and you come across these amazing public artworks along the footpath.  I couldn’t see the artist’s name for this one – as you can see, it was otherwise engaged – but they are certainly both thought-provoking or amusing – depending on your point of view.

Trundling along the path, I next suggest a quick visit to Shakespeare’s Globe - the recreation of one of London’s famous Elizabethan theatres just a few feet along from where it originally stood.

We have American political refugee, Sam Wanamaker, to thank for this amazing building – without him, it surely would never have happened.  Thanks Sam.

Enjoy one of the many plays enacted on this famous stage (did you see it in Shakespeare in Love?) or just come for a tour of the building.  Quick tip – bring a comfy cushion along or hire one at the Globe if you come to a play – they are wooden seats and the plays can be long in duration.  Enough said.

You will hear all about the South Bank of London and its history – renowned for frivolity and excesses of all kinds and kept at arm’s length from the more serious-minded citizens of The City of London who forbade the operation of such “palaces of debauchery” within its square mile.  Tsk, Tsk.

On for another culture boost and just in the shadow of the Globe lies Tate Modern.  One of the UK’s top three tourist attractions, Tate Modern is housed inside the former Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s Bankside Power Station.  Imaginatively converted by Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, the views from the top floor restaurant are some of London’s best.  Reservations recommended.

After this day of heroic activity, crawl back home or head for the nearest bar ….. and relax.  Job well done.

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Feb 242014
 

Just a short walk from London Bridge Hotel, is the ever present reminder to the Great Fire of London – The Monument (built by Christopher WrenRobert Hooke). The 61 metre column stands at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill in the City of London. It was built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London and to celebrate the rebuilding of the City.

Inside The Monument is a winding stair case with 311 carved stone steps – The Challenge – to reach the top – *interesting fact alert* the height of the building is the exact distance between it and the site in Pudding Lane where the fire began - the reward – panoramic views of London and a certificate to take home with a frame- worth every step up and back down – phew!

The Monument is open daily and can be found on Fish Street Hill, London EC3R 8AH.

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